CORAL GABLES -- Do you remember the last time a Hurricanes tight end caught a pass and got into the end zone?
Clive Walford does. He did it.
Late in the second quarter of UM's 24-6 win at home over Ohio State three weeks ago, Walford caught a pass at about the Buckeyes' 5-yard line, faked two defenders out of their shoes and waltzed into the end zone. The 6-4, 245-pound redshirt freshman from Belle Glade was so pumped about scoring his first career touchdown, he leaped into the arms of guard Harland Gunn and pumped his fist.
But then, the excitement was tempered. UM was penalized for an illegal formation on the play because receiver Tommy Streeter was not lined up with the ball.
"When they called it back I was like 'Oh man'," Walford said. "But what could you do? That's football."
Walford let that play go. But the drop at the goalline late in the fourth quarter against Kansas State a week later -- that's eaten at him a little. UM (2-2) would have rallied to take the lead on the Wildcats had Walford held onto the slightly under thrown pass from Jacory Harris. Instead, the Canes tried unsuccessfully at running it in from 2-yards out on its next three plays and lost 28-24.
Last week against Bethune-Cookman, Walford hauled in an 11-yard pass from Harris, but promptly fumbled it away.
Frustration? Walford said he isn't letting it enter his system. Instead, he's facing his woes head on and taking it all as part of the growth process.
"I wouldn't say any of it is tough luck. I just have to execute," Walford said. "They're giving me the opportunity. I just got to step up and make plays.
"I was supposed to catch that ball [versus Kansas State]. It hit my hands, I dropped it. It was a tough catch. But when it comes down to it, I have to make that catch. I had a chance to help my team win that game and I didn't come through. The following week, I was going hard in practice, got extra work in on that same play to make sure I executed the next time my number was called.
"As for the fumble, when I caught it, as I was tucking it and started running with it, someone came and hit me and it just came out. I didn't even see where the defender was. It happens. The key is not letting it happen again."
The Hurricanes, averaging 29.25 points on offense per game (62nd out of 120 FBS schools), haven't necessarily needed a lot from their tight ends this season. But their production has been minimal. Through four games, Chase Ford (3 catches, 34 yards), Walford (3 catches, 19 yards) and Asante Cleveland (1 catch, 6 yards) have been virtually transparent. That's been pretty surprising considering UM coach Al Golden talked a lot in the preseason about how the tight ends were going to be more involved.
Golden said Tuesday, "it's not like we're dissatisfied with how they're playing... we just have to get more opportunities to get the tight ends involved."
Still, it's now been 15 games since a UM tight end scored a touchdown -- that's when Ford hauled in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Harris with 14:52 to play at Ohio State on Sept. 11, 2010.
While the Canes hves been efficient in their red zone opportunities (UM has scored touchdowns on 8 of 12 trips), both losses can be attributed some to failures in the red zone. Aside from the Kansas State loss, UM had a chance against Maryland to score a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Canes settled for a field goal and 24-23 lead with 4:01 to play. Maryland came back down the field and hit the go-ahead field goal before icing the game on an interception return for a touchdown.
Could this be the week UM's tight ends finally break out and get in the end zone? Well last week, Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen had four catches for 75 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers' 23-3 win in Blacksburg.
After three rough weeks, Walford would certainly love to follow Allen's lead.
"As long as we're winning, that's all that matters to me," Walford said. "But it would be pretty sweet to get to get in that end zone again. And this time hopefully it counts."
MORE NEWS AND NOTES
> Al Golden said Walford has "worked really well on his hands, but he's an infant in terms of football. He has a large upside, and he's just starting his football intelligence and learning the game and everything. He's a guy we should be getting the ball to better."
But, Golden added: "He's a guy that should be doing it in practice like [Tommy] Streeter and Travis [Benjamin] are doing. Streeter and Travis' practice habits are markedly better than they were even at the start of the year. We need that from Clive so quarterbacks can trust him and carry that over to the game."
> Jacory Harris said Walford's blocking has improved and what he likes most about him is that "he's not someone that complains or anything. He just goes out there, does his job."
"And because of that, I'm sure something special is going to happen for him before the end of the year," Harris said.
> Golden has said multiple times this week he hasn't been happy with the Hurricanes' struggles on third and fourth down and short yardage situations.
"Unacceptable," Golden said of the struggles. "Any criticism there is more than fair. We have to do a better job there. We have to decide what we want our identity to be there. We've tried a multitude of things there. We just have to settle in. but clearly when it's one yard and the game is on the line we have to be able to get that via the run. That's going to be critical for us."
UM has been in 13 situations this season where they've needed one yard to either convert a third or fourth down or score -- the most infamous being in the loss at Kansas State. After beginning the season converting 5 of its first 7 attempts in those situations, UM has converted just once over it's last six tries, starting with the loss to the Wildcats.
"It's on all of us," Golden said Sunday. "... We have to look at the schemes from Jedd [Fisch] and the offensive staff, look at our execution, look at whose hands [we're putting the ball in] for those situations."
> Golden went on the Dan LeBatard Show on 790TheTicket Thursday and discussed the season-ending injury to defensive tackle Marcus Forston.
"Brutal," Golden said. "I feel bad for the young man. That's a position we've just been crushed at. Luther Robinson has been out so far for every game. Curtis Porter has been out for every game. Now Marcus is out. It's been brutal in there at defensive tackle. Again, I feel bad for the young man. It will be a three month recovery. He'll come back and be fine. Right now we need the next young man to step up and play better for us."